Thursday, January 31, 2013

DAY 5) Just Five Senses?

The fifth day finds me aware. Reality has its place, but so too does perception. The charm of the hotel was in its people. The Italian host in the restaurant with his mistake for my coffee with cream; the desk clerk, Meagan, with her cheerful disposition; the waitresses who were considerate and caring (two different words in not so different worlds). Then there was the Lebanese taxi driver to the Domestic Terminal. "Three children and been here 30 years." And though I had to walk the breadth of the terminal, pushing my two bags in my wheelchair and then had to shuffle along in the cheque-in queue, once I got to the attendant, Julie Shawbrook, magic happened! Everything was taken care of. Qantas came through! Upgraded to first class, whisked through security, and soon to be on my way!

There are images of great beauty etched on the mind of the traveler. I have a friend, Ian, whom I doubt has ever taken a photograph. Certainly not in the 30+ years I've known him. He retains the senses of his very many journeys in the mind. Yet he is grateful for the exquisite art of moments captured in the frames in his apartment. Yet are there not places in the heart that will never be revealed? For lack of his photos I cannot possibly share his vision. Imagery is like that, even in a photograph. Each of us brings recall to the same scene through our senses ...differently.

Directly ahead of me is a most religious man. He is very upset. The topic over his phone is some congregational member's marriage. Political correctness has me declining to identify his garb, but he wears it with the authority of one who is conditioned to looking different and standing out in the airport crowds. Yet in his own community he would be barely distinguishable from the next man. Codes of conduct contain his sensibilities. In the snippets I overhear, he is very opinionated about what should be done, quite angry about it at times, clearly argumentative. "They" is a word he often uses, smudged as his accent is, speaking halting English.
We behave according to codes of conduct. Ethics, though situational, is an expectation we easily break when we are not thinking. That's why we check our change. That's why we zip up our pockets, need security, have distrust. Ethics has as its first tenant that we do what we can to make the best for all. Problem is, selfishness easily gets in the way. Why else would this man, now closing up his phone in frustration, feel that his very personal authority is being flouted? Or am I guilty of conjecture?

Details of life are held in the mind, in the senses, or not. We meet someone and even after 40 years there is an essence that is unmistakeable. Anthony Brink. A friend held dear. The immaturity of youth is gone, but the spark is still there! I took no photos of the people I met, but captured some of the places. It will be as though seeing their ghost when I revisit the images. And after all, when we no longer can be with our friends, see them, is it not the ghost of their beings that we carry within us?

Five senses, heading toward a sixth sense, indeed. We make life rich by using them. Aware!

DAY 4) Meeting With Reality

A mite was at my table this dinner hour, from 6:30 to 7:30, almost precisely. Was it lost? A few others at nearby tables paid no attention to the entirety of the life force I was so captivated by; for them it was perhaps just an ordinary day. 

What soul force is not contained in the smallest of occurrences? How are we not all connected? A mite has but an hour, I’ve heard; a whole lifetime of experience brought about in a single hour. I’d travelled over 7,000 miles just to see it. Well, not ‘just’, but the life force of the mite so viewed had my full attention. That my life was in Canada (inasmuch as my life was right there at that table right then) and that its life is being lived as an Australian was part of the circumstance of our being brought together, this soulforce and me. How to see ourselves as one? But were I to capture it the Gods would surely laugh. They laugh when men make plans. Was it not I who so long ago chose to go and live abroad? Yet like John Donne’s compass then, how nearer to heaven may the concordance be? But this meager hour passed and the huge life force of so very little left me for elsewhere. And I felt as if bereft.

Outside the window the traffic roared by. An occasional pedestrian. Inside the TV blared. American Idol auditions are evidently watched here too. Entire continents yoked together electronically, spiritually, if not physically. But my fixation was on things Australian. The lemon and bitter cool-drink. The marks left by the bottle on the Formica table. The wave of an Aussie leaving. The accents. The kindness of the young waitresses, Felicity and Theresa. They asked me questions. I told them my story. Africa to them was so very exotic. So absolutely romantic. They felt glad to meet me, a throwback to a lost time, ha!

Anthony picked me up at 3:30. I’d waited outside my rather down-kempt hotel with the traffic whooshing by on Forest Road. The main Princes Highway, but a few steps away, was even worse. The grind of big trucks and the sheer pace of mechanized humanity is a constant engine churning at silence. Every vehicle imaginable was momentarily halted at the traffic lights, rather like so many different human beings, each equipped to encumber life with a purpose driven by someone else. Anthony had to mount the pedestrian pavement in front of the hotel; and it took him time to exit the car least his door be swept away in the booming traffics’ roar. My wheelchair in the back, “We are going to Newtown,” it was decided. “It is trendy, artsy, an entire neighbourhood given over to shopping and downtown living.” The artery through it was called Kings Street, and in the 900’s block we found a restaurant, simply named, ‘Twelve’. A Caesar Salad and a Veggie Burger later, we headed back toward the car, and got lost.

The dereliction and cracks and peeling paint and clutter is remarkable. ‘Erected in 1809’ the sign on a building, much like any other, boasted. Paper-bark trees lined side-streets. Three-quarter-million dollar homes, some gaily painted, resembled tenement housing. And the people, generally, were most casually dressed. Three young men drank beer as they walked. Very many girls did not wear slips. And there was a constant stream of persons, though some caught my eye, looked surprised and then pleased at my smile. Almost every shop facade was plastered with posters. We advertise ourselves. My wheelchair, gentle as Tony was, felt every bump. And the sun shone and the wind blew and in the side streets in which we searched for the car the birds made wonderfully unfamiliar sounds. But there was an edginess to the people-dense atmosphere. Decadence and decay was married in the mire of commercialism and enterprise. And the general effect on me, this day, was of mankind on the brink of colossal decay.

We live on this earth but a short while. How might we not then live with love, with clarity, with truth? Or are we indeed... lost?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

DAY 03) The Third Day

Resurrection connotes good things. The friendships resurrected. The faith resurrected. The living legend resurrected. The marriage, the relationship, the memory, the past, the... Well, not everything we seek to resurrect goes well. Many a memory comes to haunt, unless, as Andy Andrews writes in The Traveller’s Gift, the buck stops here.

The Traveler’s Gift was read on the plane, cover to cover. Essentially its middle-aged protagonist, at the end of his foreseeable fortunes, drives himself into a tree and goes on a spiritual journey of seven enlightenments. He has visits with President Truman (the buck stops here); King Solomon (wisdom serves others); Joshua Chamberlain (action impacts others); Christopher Columbus (decisiveness despite others); Anne Frank (happiness is a constant choice); Abraham Lincoln (forgiveness of self first gives compassion for others); and Archangel Gabriel (persistence of faith without let-up). Paraphrasing it all helps my own understanding. Adhering to a formulaic seven-step ideology, impeccable precision of wording notwithstanding, will not work for me. Whichever mnemonic device one employs to practice the seven steps, the essence is that one is responsible for one’s thoughts; that wisdom is best understood (ha!); that decisive action is better than over-vacillation; that unyielding passion of intuition leads beyond boundaries; that attitude is a choice; that compassion arises from forgiveness; and that persistence is the only way of faith.

This third day finds me resurrecting my spirits. There is a pleasant sense of ‘being in the present’ despite the physical recovery from yesterday’s sojourn. Discomforts of travelling were to be expected. Wrong hotels with same names (almost). Two taxis. Angry people. Misguided people. Overpricing. Paper thin walls. Suspect cleanliness. Rattling window with constant heavy traffic. Pavement level window so no open curtain. And the list might go on. So too for our lives. Response to things is different from reaction.

So I type, awaiting my friend Anthony Brink. He will come take me from this “cold dark hotel room” and spirit me away to vistas as yet unseen. And this third day finds me concerned for my sister, who emailed this morning to say a rather huge complication has returned regarding her cancer. Archangel Gabriel, why does directness of prayer not necessarily get directly answered? Is it not like receiving something different in the mail than that which one has expressly ordered? But the buck of self-pity stops here; the focus on the welfare of others augments; the action of communicating continues; the passion for life’s insights persists; the choosing of a grateful attitude coalesces; forgiving myself and hereby others has immediate resonance; and persisting in faith that someone, somewhere, is perhaps still to benefit from my best of intentions buoys me. You too?  

Feeling resurrected? The third day has a ring to it. That which is arisen on a journey into the future settles down to the pace of the passage. The past is a place. The future is unknown. And having faith that life will take care of itself has a meaning in “a purpose driven life.” So too for all those caught in the dreadful Queensland floods. So too for those just yesterday so ‘shocked’ by the Australian Prime Minister’s September 14th electoral announcement. Even so for the many boat refugees turned back, the earthquake victims, the sufferers within this present, as well as for those yet to be afflicted by tomorrow. It is at is. There are no mistakes, it all is a lesson.

Or not.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

DAY 2B) The Lost Day

So many more days have been lost than just one. In the long memory of any of us who grow older (and we all do) which of us can remember each and every day? Many of us can hardly recall an incident from a given year. I know I was once seven years old, but what exactly happened, back then in 1959? Let alone its weekday of January the 29th.

It is 7:10 a.m. by my watch, Canada home time, January 29th, 2013 as I type. From the seatback map ahead I see we've just overflown Honolulu. Sydney time is now 2:10 a.m., Wednesday 30th. What happened to Tuesday? We've been only 7 hours on the air and we've come only half way since Monday 23:45 (11:45 p.m.) departure. Time lines obfuscate. The expected arrival is in Sydney at 9:36 a.m., Wednesday. We've travelled 2,918 miles. Only 3,905 miles to go! Add seven more hours. So somewhere in these 15 hours in the air 'my' 29th of January is being absorbed at a speed of around 580 miles per hour and nearly 4,000 feet up. Yet while it is now the 30th in Sydney I do feel this plane beneath and around me, and the 29th is a momentum, not a lost day at all. Even in sleep the jog of it in the air is a consciousness. Yet the thing is, I shall have forgotten these exacting details by the time I close up this page. And soon I shall have forgotten George, now sat beside me, the hell-i-pilot too. The actual factual facts, for me, will smudge into a haze of imperfect sensations, yet easily enough conjured should occasion arise to describe a long flight. It's those friends of mine who can recall the time and the precise details of their days that intrigue me. My brain lets go of the past.

Thing is, the sensations of being on the beach with my father and two brothers perhaps in 1959 in what back then was Nyasaland is pleasant enough. It'd been my very first flight in an aeroplane (since 'flight' has so many meanings). Yet I know I wanted even then to see the sea. The lake was insufficient, big as it was. But even this memory is only provoked by the fading photograph I still have of the four of us sat up on the sand. And I do not know the exact year. And the longing for the sea, I think, is true, but it may be fanciful conjecture. The creative mind loves to conjure details, but certainly to let go of the need for accuracy. Thing is, some would accuse it (me) of letting go of the truth.

Lost days are like that. We take a calendar and mark the birthdays of others, and perhaps record significant events. On some calendars that I've kept I'm surprised to see such an entry as "dinner with Ian and Paula Pursch". It takes me awhile to recall them; it was back in 1976, or mayhap '75? But there are other names, or rather, the people still behind those names, that I entirely forget. Do they still live? Would they be insulted?

Does a day feel insulted if we do not give it accord? This gift of time, so precious that we award gold to the one who beats another by split seconds to the podium; so precious that we see the bus take off even though the would-be passengers are running to catch it; so precious that the plane has precise details as to when to land in an airport crowded with traffic; so precious as to know that even the ones you most love will have days if not years that are unaccounted for, despite the treasure of being in the company of each other. Lost. Yet we will make every effort and go to great expense to coincide at a precise time, to meet, to share. I shall swim an ocean just to see you, goes the song.

And even then, how much of such a day or moment will be lost? Time is the gift of now.

DAY 2) The 39th Step

Timbuktu. It is a name resonant with exotic travel. So too for Papa New Guinea. At least, that's where George Gear, the helicopter pilot sitting beside me is headed. Not that he now is flying his helicopter; he lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and travels every alternate month to work with the pipe-line industry. The Air Canada Boeing on which we travel is his regular commute. Others on this plane have similar stories, one may readily surmise. After all, the greatest of journeys begins with a single step.

It matters not so much where these 7,776 miles are taking me; it matters more that each minute be alive with the simple fact that I am alive too. Even now, as George the chopper pilot beside me sleeps, we sleep in a sense of being here, or not. Ever had an awakening and not known at all where you are? The body feels displaced. Eventually the orientation of things comes to enlighten you, and it is the new hotel room, or the new continent, or the new guest room that had you discombobulated. Yet altogether more amusing are those awakening moments in the dark of one's own room and still without a sense of being where one is at. Ever done that? Me too!

Acceptance has as its central tenant an immediacy of the moment. Pain is easiest accommodated through acceptance. So too for intolerance and impatience and annoyance and negativity. These things can greatly be ameliorated by the compassion realized in the moment. Without available grease, one may as well accept the wheel squeaking. So too for the abrasive young female passenger approximately three rows up from me in the plane. Her voice carries and she lingers on words, and takes pauses mid-sentence that have the listener waiting, and there is a tone of self-awareness to her speech patterns that would seem as though she is listening to herself, enjoying her sound. Her listener, a young male, occasionally mumbles in some deep based and indistinguishable rumble, shortly, and then she barrages in again. Others are trying to sleep. Even the stewardess, who initially was demonstrating seat-belts and exits and oxygen masks, looked over as if that passenger ought to be silenced during the public announcements, but nobody has yet proven brave enough, annoyed enough, brazen enough, and my three-in-one oil is in my tool-box back in the toolshed, back in Victoria.

Esoteric references are like that. What appears as a mumble to one makes perfect sense to another. The articulation of syllables and the ontology of sounds makes for a foreign speaking person to be understood but by a select few. So too for matters of the spirit, of the heart, of the emotions, of the instincts, of intuition, of synergy. We identify or we do not. And we seek in our non understanding to have the sentences parsed, the phrasing made precise, the meaning made very clear. My German is passable should someone speak very slowly. It helps even more if their semiotics are well developed. It is not always the big word that impresses. Accuracy can matter. Intention is intuited.

The second day of the forty is also the thirty-ninth. Is one dwindling to a Down Under or is one mounting to an Over Yonder? And in the acceptance of the passage of time, of the moments of the flight, of the quotidian nemesis that shall discover each of us for what we do with our days, we breathe easy, or we are frustrated with what is not met.

Monday, January 28, 2013

DAY 1) Forty Days and Forty Nights

(photo by Justin Neway)

All journeys begin in the dark. At least, this one does. Yet for others too there is so very much unknown, despite meticulous planning. One cannot anticipate the unexpected, the stranger, the advent, the coincidence; momentum may be predicted according to an itinerary, but somewhere along the line there inevitably occurs the insight, the intuition, the light breaking in where once there was little clarity, or perhaps just the noise of the unfamiliar. Thing is, biblical in proportions as forty days and forty nights may be, it could be just a journey taking up that much time, or it could be momentous. We evolve toward enlightenment, or not. And if the traveler is intent, perhaps there might be a revelation, or not. Who would take this journey with me?

Yet aloneness is the essence of the voyager; especially in biblical terms. One goes out and thinks and observes and evaluates and synthesizes. And at some point there are others who talk to me, who communicate. Was Moses so distracted? Even on some of my most solo journeys in life, like hiking in the Rocky Mountains, or standing guard for hours on end in Africa, there were distractions. A bird, an insect, the sound of the wind. We are never really completely alone. And our atoms are but part of the atomic soup.

Air travel is so very full of isolated moments, isolated people, isolated facts and expectations and timetables and codes and regulations. And seen all together it is somewhat like being caught up in the productivity of a ginormous bee hive, from electric hive to hive, single atoms riding on the larger body of an organizational complexity beyond the ken of most of us, rather like life itself.

We do not necessarily fly from. Some of us fly toward. We do not necessarily seek escape. Some of us seek change. We do not necessarily dislike where we are that causes us to journey away; some of us travel in search of farther fields of knowledge, broader horizons, greater insights to bring back to our home base. Travel may do that to us. Then of course, some of us just go to get some rest.

Paradigm shifts do not rely on geographical relocation. They do not rely on physical alternatives to extant conditions, nor do they relay necessarily on someone else's words. Paradigm shifts occur when one's point of view is changed. The impatient realize patience. The angry realize tolerance. The hateful gain compassion. The anxious knows acceptance. Precision of phraseology no longer really matters when one understands the meaning of another, when one integrates the whole. The woman who cannot speak English caught my eye, looked at her case, gestured, and looked toward the washroom; I nodded. And she left her bag in my care. Now she is back, three seats away. Neither of us needed any further ado.

The journey has begun!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Breath For Breath

Misaligned Momentum?

Nothing to do? Truly, nothing. No call to make, email to write, person to go see. There is a moment of nothing to do. And the brain can hardly bear it. TV watching does not count, nor making a cup of tea, nor even meditating. I mean, nothing to do. No, don't read this article, do not tidy the house, do not do the laundry, do not eat a cookie. Do nothing. And the feeling is remarkable. Do not remark on the feeling. Do not write an article about it. Do not realign books on the shelf. Do not read. Do nothing. Just breathe. Be alive. Be just yourself doing nothing. Now. Right now. And then...?

Momentum keeps calling me, like the inertia of a parked vehicle; it is a potential waiting to be realized. The instinct is to move. Look at that; I am doing something. Think on this. Or that. See, I am indeed doing something. So I'll not move, not do, not... But now I'm concentrating on not doing something, and the momentum of that awareness has me aware of just how very many other things I could be doing. Should be...


We are driven by our doing. Even long lonely hours of standing guard duty seemingly doing nothing is still doing guard duty. Just waiting. Boring? How to wait? How to be still? How not to be focussing against doing something when not caught up in the focus on now doing something? Huh? Say again? How to do nothing! Stop reading! Stop...

Momentum has us perpetually at something or other. It's natural. And we become so habituated that to not have something to do (even if it is to struggle against our bondage or to wonder how long this boring lecture is yet to take) is to feel at a loss for life. Surely I can use my time more better? (But never use more-better in an essay!)

Thing is, peeling potatoes while thinking of God may not be a good thing for the fingers necessarily; best to peel the potatoes. We bring our breath to each moment, or we are dead. And in that very breath, each breath, is the essence of what we really do, the rest are details. Taking a breath? Aware of it? So it eventually matters not too much, except for the sake of preference and in terms of respect for others what we do, for in breathing is life, is who we in essence are. And so we find non-attachment to the outcome just an involvement in the journey. And so we find non-attachment to the journey just our exercise of preferences natural to being human. Moment for moment. Breathe.

When the running down of the battery on this iPad prevents me from finishing this essay I may feel... And a host of words come to mind. But if I am not attached to any of those outcomes of possible response then I smile, and just close up this tap-tap on the writing machine. And... Oh well.

And do nothing.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

To 'That' Uncle

Dear Uncle, After all that's been done you want to know how I am? Whether it's been hours, or whether years and years, shame and guilt at knowing you might be the same. If you stop reading this now you might be able to escape realizing more, but already you can never go back to the time when things were clean, trusting, honest; the link between us has been soiled. When you take away a child's innocence it can never be regained. And I now tell you about it, since you ask how I am, with the hope that you never reach for another child in that way, a way that is entirely selfish, self-gratifying, and fills the innocent with horrible fear that the things you do, or did, will be discovered.

That deep dark secret that you imposed on me when I was just a child did not let me ever be totally honest, totally innocent, totally trusting of any one at all as I grew up. No friend, no adult, nobody at all ever heard about what you did with me, to me. But my inability to tell them meant that I could never be truthful. I could never be unguarded. I could never be unashamed. I could never be innocent. I could not see sex as something special or sacred or even beautiful until I overcame the sense of it being sordid, secretive, underhanded, fearful, and lowly. You took away my chances of being ordinary, of being honest, truthful, innocent, pure, untainted, and by your selfish actions you left me to fend for myself against all adults, all friends, quite sure that I would never tell, I suppose, since in those days the shame, the consequences, were so severe that quite evidently I was unable to divest myself of the great burden of being involved in homosexual acts, a little child though I was when it was done. May such fear and degradation of innocence never be imposed on another, ever again. I beg you.

That your actions, uncle, lead me always to examine life is not directly due to you but to me. I made it my purpose. Other nieces and nephews of yours may not have escaped your clutches as they grew into adulthood; their wounds may never have healed into scars. And as I scratch at the scar of your memory now, since you ask after me, I do so for the sake of sharing with all my readers the caution to watch their children with uncles such as you. And to share with those victims of similar atrocity the sense of release of shame and guilt, and the real need to reveal the perpetrator, men like you, so that the children in contact with 'caretakers' like you might be protected. Millions upon millions.

All my readers? Yes, into perpetuity. History itself will record the wrongdoing. Children can grow to be public figures. And you have been found out. Why? Not for vengeance, but for the protection of others. Not that you now be punished, vilified, but be seen to be a danger to children. That we might help you, have compassion for your circumstances, forgive you for your inability to be other than who you are; these are the things of a mature and caring society. But the first order of any given day is that you be revealed!

If you loathe me for revealing you, for 'now' telling others, for now taking the lid off what happened, ‘so very long ago’, then think on this; that which uncles such as you do stains the very future of each child you so despoil. And not every child so abused grows up compassionate, loving, gentle, forgiving, understanding; research shows that a great many grow up to be abusers too. Or damaged. Insecure. Soiled. Shamed.

"How am I?" you ask. Pleased to get this off my chest. Hoping good may come of you.